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To Live In The Bubble

Rockliffe Hall's Head Sommelier, Daniel Jonberger, reflects on a tough time in his life that made him appreciate the importance of a supportive team and a good work-life balance.

I have been very fortunate to have worked in the Hospitality Industry for most of my life. It has given me a chest full of fantastic memories and another with dark memories. When you work with a good team it is your second family, let’s face it, you are at work more than home sometimes and you want to protect them and want them to protect you.

By protecting I mean to create the balance of hard work and downtime, to make work fun, to help keep us sane. Working during service in a restaurant is such an intense time and to crack a smile and a joke helps to alleviate some of the pressure. In time you trust your team and are looking forward to going to work.

But what happens when you take all that away? It happened to me some years back. For a long period of time working, I had back pain. I tried physiotherapy and regularly went to the doctors to see what could be done. The number of painkillers I was prescribed was staggering. But, I refused to stop work and look after my back. I could not be without my second family. When I was persuaded to have an MRI scan it transpired that my lumbar 4 and 5 were in such a state that the consultant wanted to operate immediately. I was stalling, but my wife told me, if I did not go through with the operation she would leave me. As good an ultimatum as you can get. 

A successful operation took place, but then the dark clouds started to gather. I was scheduled to be in convalescence for nine weeks before even thinking about going back to work. This was the perfect recipe for depression, and I grabbed it with all my might. Not that I understood that this was happening. I started to treat my nearest and dearest with a mixture of anger and remorse. I stopped cooking, something I always loved doing on my days off. And I started to shut my feelings away and become a very pale version of myself.

During this period of my life, we were living in the Lake District which I think was my rescue. Not for nature, but for the way the people in the village looked after each other.  I can’t thank my wife enough for her support. She had a quiet word with one of the GPs and he, in a typical Cumbrian way, took me to the pub. Over some beers, he managed to get me to open up, just a crack, and got me to promise to come to talk to him regularly.

During the last weeks of my convalescence, I realised that I did have depression. I did hurt people around me, I did only think negatively. It was a long road back, but with my family’s help, the GP and the fantastic support from people in the village, I managed to once again smile with true heart and feel and give love.

Fast-forward some years and I am now in one of the best working positions I could ever imagine. Rockliffe Hall is full of wonderful people that is really just a big family. I have managed to separate my profession from my private life. The balance is there. 

Quietly, in my own time, I sometimes help individuals who are where I was, a dark place. If I can only help a little, I am very happy. We all need to look after our teams, even if they retire. Ask them in for coffee perhaps. Invite them to an unofficial team party. Most of all, be honest with each other.

Daniel Jonberger
Head Sommelier, Rockliffe Hall.


Rockliffe Hall is delighted to be supporting Hospitality Action throughout the forthcoming Festival of Food in February 2019. Established in 1837, Hospitality Action offers vital assistance to all who work or have worked within hospitality in the UK and who find themselves in crisis.